Thursday, October 8, 2009

Mother to Son

Since Nikki became pregnant, and even more so since Rose's birth, I have been trying to figure out what kind of father I want to be and, more to the point, what kind of father I will end up being no matter what kind of father I want to be.

I remember when my friend's mother passed away a handful of years ago, I sent him Langston Hughes' Mother to Son, which summed up something for me about the love that a parent might give to their child in letting them know the troubles of world and helping make them strong enough to bear them.

Looking at baby Rose, I am entirely committed to protecting her from everything awful and bad in the world. But I also know that the world has a way of toppling the levees we build around our precious things. In the end, I hope that I can teach her that while life isn't always a "crystal stair" that, if we keep climbing, we find landings for rest and comfort and occasionally turn corners that flights down we could never have imagined. Like the one I just turned.*

"Mother to Son"
Langston Hughes

Well, son, I'll tell you:
Life for me ain't been no crystal stair.
It's had tacks in it,
And splinters,
And boards torn up,
And places with no carpet on the floor --
But all the time
I'se been a-climbin' on,
And reachin' landin's,
And turnin' corners,
And sometimes goin' in the dark
Where there ain't been no light.
So boy, don't you turn back.
Don't you set down on the steps
'Cause you finds it's kinder hard.
Don't you fall now --
For I'se still goin', honey,
I'se still climbin',
And life for me ain't been no crystal stair.

* I am slightly worried that my broader, personal reading of this poem sets aside, a bit too much, its racial and social justice message. But my poetry consultant, certified poet Jill McDonough, assures me that "Mother to Son has plenty of room for racial equality readings and personal readings and also things-are-easier-for-the-next-generation readings; none of those interpretations cheapen it, I don't think. I think it's about the giving up, as well as the kinder hard; we all want to give up sometimes, but it's useful to realize other people went before us and didn't quit. And are still going, even."
So breathe easy. And read it however you like.

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